Sony PCM-M10

September 29th, 2011 | by Jeff Towne
Photo of Sony PCM-M10

Sony PCM-M10

Intro from Jay Allison

If I manufactured digital audio recorders, I’d be happy there’s someone like Jeff Towne to pay so much loving attention to them. Transom is featuring another of Jeff’s ongoing series of affordable gear tests, this time, the Sony PCM-M10. It fills a niche somewhere between smartphone and professional recorder.

Read on for a complete rundown on all the features, with photos, comparison chart, and audio tests.

From Jeff Towne

It’s an interesting time for small digital recorders. As is happening with compact point-and-shoot cameras, basic audio recorders are at risk of being absorbed by multitasking smartphones. As with cameras, there’s still demand for higher-end equipment; someone doing a lot of critical audio recording will prefer a dedicated device, with more flexibility and customizability, with more robust connections, and greater overall reliability.

But what about the basic audio recorder: a device for beginners, or for those times you don’t want to carry a large rig, or when you need a backup? Should you just use your smartphone? The balance of pros and cons may change over time, but in 2011, there are still plenty of good arguments for using a dedicated audio recorder. Because they’re simpler than the little computers that we refer to as phones, digital recorders are generally more reliable, less likely to crash or freeze, and more likely to have more options specifically oriented toward audio recording.

Smartphones present the revolutionary options of editing and mixing within the device, and moving files over WIFI or data networks, but they rarely offer professional-caliber audio connections, and the sound quality is usually not quite as good as one can get with a purpose-built audio recorder. Dedicated recorders tend to have better battery life and larger storage capacity for making longer recordings.

Thankfully, within the world of small flash-memory recorders, new models continue to get smaller, more capable, and less expensive. We used to complain that all of the affordable recorders were oriented more toward people recording their rock bands in their basements, or perhaps recording college lectures or office dictation, rather than recording voices and ambiences. But some of the new inexpensive recorders have better sound quality and are relatively easy to use for collecting a wide range of sounds.

We’ve hit a fortunate confluence of technology in the last couple of years, and there are now small, inexpensive, good-sounding recorders that can easily achieve professional-quality results. One of those is the Sony PCM-M10. We’ve long been fans of the Sony PCM-D50, and often recommend it to audio documentarians. But there are a few things we don’t love about it: it’s a little pricey; it’s just a little bit too big and heavy to carry casually; the battery life isn’t great; and the built-in mics are VERY sensitive to even light breezes and handling noise. The M10 isn’t meant to be a replacement for the D50, or even to be an equivalent, but it does address many of the downsides of the D-50.

It’s small. In fact, it might be as small as a recorder can be, and still be practical. It’s a little wider and boxier than the Olympus LS-10 or LS-11, but it’s shorter, and fits in a pocket better. The Zoom H-1 is much smaller and more lightweight, but it suffers from having a display that’s not as easy to read, doesn’t have as many connections, and there’s no hardware input gain knob.

We get a little crazy with geeky gear-lust when contemplating the big, smooth, precise input gain knob of the Sony D-50, and sadly, the M10 does not have that beautiful piece of ergonomics. But it DOES have an input gain knob, and it lays conveniently underneath the thumb when holding it in the right hand. So adjusting record levels can be done smoothly and silently, if not quite as elegantly as on the D-50.

Although the recorder is small, about the size of a deck of cards, that’s just big enough to allow the control buttons to be accessed easily, to allow a screen that can be easily read, while displaying helpful information like levels and remaining available record time. I’m not sure it would be helpful for it to be any smaller – it fits comfortably in the hand as it is, and if it were any smaller, it would be hard to place all of the controls in an ergonomic way. It is just compact enough that one can put it in an average pocket, and carry it easily. Or it could be stored in a gear bag without taking up much room, perfect as a back-up or second recorder for people with larger, professional rigs.

The build quality seems solid, and it even looks like it’s made of metal, but in fact it’s mostly plastic. Nonetheless, it feels durable. I’m not sure it would survive a drop onto a hard surface, but it should hold up to normal wear-and-tear without any trouble. If there’s any deficiency to the construction, it’s that the mini USB connector, used to connect the recorder to a computer to transfer sound files, has no cover, so it seems likely that foreign objects could clog that port.

That mini USB port will get a lot of use if you rely on the built-in memory, and you could: the M10 comes with 4 gigabytes of internal memory, which provides between 4 and 5 hours of recording time at the standard 16-bit, 44.1 khz sample rate, wav format. If you desire additional record time, there are slots for external flash memory cards. We would have preferred that the external card slot was the common SD type, but instead the provided memory slots are for micro SD or Sony Memorystick. It’s an improvement over the D-50, which can only use Sony Memorystick: at least the M10 has the option of micro SD, which is a more universal format.

You may never need external memory cards, 4 gigs is a lot of record time. But for long recording excursions, a 16-gig memory card, combined with the internal memory, could give over 25 hours of recording at CD quality. There’s a menu setting that allows a recording to cascade from the internal memory to an external card, so very long recordings can be made without interruption. (Menu>>Detail Menu>>Cross-Memory Recording.)

Unlike the earlier Sony D-50 model, the M10 can record in MP3 format for even longer record times. It is not recommended to record original material in MP3 if sound quality is important. It’s perfectly fine for recording dictation, lectures, and other kinds of reference audio, but for radio broadcast, podcasts, or other kinds of distribution, it’s always best to record wav files. Converting files to MP3 multiple times can result in distorted audio, weird gurgles, metallic ringing, or other undesired artifacts. Because your audio is likely to be converted to a compressed format for delivery, it’s best to make your original recordings as uncompressed .wav files, and keep them in that format until the very end, only converting to the space-saving MP3, or AAC, or other compressed formats as the final step. That said, it’s nice to have the space-saving option of MP3 recording for less-critical operations, or dire emergencies.

On the other extreme, the M10 can record high-resolution files at sample rates up to 96khz, and bit depths of 24 bits. Those high-resolution files use more memory for each minute of recording, but may be desirable in critical situations such as recording quiet music instruments, birdcalls, or other such low-level, detailed sounds.

Plenty of recorders have the technical capability of recording high-quality sound, but not all of them do in practice. Often the microphone preamps or other elements of the input circuitry are not very good. The other Sony recorders we’ve used tend to have good quality, both using the built-in microphones and with external mics. Happily, the M10 follows the tradition of its predecessors: test recordings turned out very well.

As has been the case with many recorders we’ve tested, from many manufacturers, the sound quality is generally very good with the built-in microphones. Where many of the smaller, affordable recorders had been coming up short is when using external microphones. Predictably, we got better results on the M10 when using louder-output microphones, such as condenser mics, but that’s true of most recorders. The M10 has sufficient gain to work with quieter mics, even the dynamic omni mics that reporters like so well. A little bit of hiss and hum may rise up out of the murk when the gain is turned up very high for those quieter mics, but overall, the recordings will still be useable.





In general, we recommend condenser mics for use with these small recorders, but if you go that way, you must use mics that can use an internal battery for phantom power. The M10 only has a mini-jack mic input, no XLR inputs, and therefore cannot send phantom power to the microphone like some recorders with XLRs can. The M10 can provide “Plug-in Power” to electret mics that use that kind of powering. In fact, the M10 asks whether to turn on plug-in power when you plug an external mic into the minijack. But plug-in power and phantom power are different things, and one can’t be converted to the other.

In a perfect world, we’d prefer XLR jacks on our recorders. The connection is more robust, the balanced wiring of the cables rejects electromagnetic interference, and those balanced connections can transmit phantom power, which means that a wider variety of mics can be used. However, they take up a lot of space, so it’s understandable that a small recorder might use a minijack input instead. A good XLR-to-mini cable, wired correctly to send audio to both right and left channels, can sound every bit as good as an XLR cable. But the connection between the cable and the jack is a little fragile. We prefer cables with right-angle mini plugs, to reduce the chance of stressing the connector and jack. The M10’s minijack input is plastic, not metal, which is worrisome, but it just means that you should be careful with that cable and connector. The right angle plug reduces stress; making a small loop of cable and taping it to the back of the recorder can also go a long way toward reducing the stress on that jack. And try not to pack the recorder into a bag with the cable connected, so it doesn’t get bent in transit.

It’s tempting to just use the built-in mics, and forego the issues of cabling and microphone compatibility. The built-ins are indeed very good for recording location sound: musical performances, acoustic or amplified; demonstrations of an activity; large-scale events like parades, protests or rallies; vox-pop and other on-the-street interviews where the background sound is almost as important as the foreground. The Sony M10 is especially well-suited for this, because its built-in mics are omnidirectional, which makes them significantly less susceptible to wind and handling noise. Most small recorders employ highly directional microphones, in order to create a wide stereo image from the two closely-spaced mics. But with increased directionality comes increased sensitivity to wind and handling noise. The M10 isn’t immune from wind rumble or handling noise, but it’s easier to get clean recordings, free of the bassy rumble and distortion that can come from wind blowing across a mic, or from hands moving across the body of the recorder.

If you intend to use the built-in mics in outdoor situations, you’ll certainly still want to get some wind protection. The M10 does not ship with a windscreen, but Sony makes an optional furry windscreen that slides over the end of the recorder. It costs $50, which is kind of a lot when the recorder itself costs only a little over $200, but those furry covers are pretty effective. Rycote makes a “Mini-Windjammer” that fits the M10 for about the same price, and WindTech makes a “Mic Muff” (the MM-50 model) that fits many of the smaller recorders, and can be had for closer to $25.

The built-in mics work surprisingly well. In theory, one can’t get much of a stereo image from omnidirectional mics placed closely together, like they are on this recorder. But the proof is in the listening, and in practice, the M10 makes very nice stereo recordings, with good stereo separation, and imaging. Many other small recorders, including the M10’s big brother the Sony D50, make a big deal about adjustable position mics, which allow the user to select narrow or wide stereo pick-up patterns. Those are convenient options to have when you have time to be very precise in your placement of the recorder, but in the real world, it’s more common to just point the recorder at something and move it around until it sounds good. The M10 mics can’t be repositioned, but what’s more important is that they sound good, and can create a vivid you-are-there stereo image.




I’m commonly asked about stereo microphones at Transom, and my answer is increasingly that you already have a very good stereo mic if you own a little compact flash recorder. Almost all of them do a great job of being a stereo mic. This is true of the M10, with the added benefit of it being more forgiving than recorders with more directional mics.

But there are times when it would be preferable to use an external microphone. In almost all circumstances, interviews will turn out better when using an external mic that’s assigned to record voice. It’s easier to get the microphone in an ideal position for recording the voice, while keeping the recorder in a place where levels can be monitored, and adjustments can be made on-the-fly. And more to the point: the built-in mics are very good, but a dedicated interview mic usually sounds better, and can be handled easier, resulting in fewer P-Pops and less rumbling from handling noise.

Even when recording ambiences or performances, it’s occasionally better to use an external mic, just because of placement: the ideal position of the built-in microphones might make the recorder difficult to operate, and make it impossible to watch level meters. If you want to use the built-ins, there’s an easy solution to some of the operational issues: the M10 comes with a wired remote control, which is very handy if you’ve placed the recorder on a high stand or in some position that makes it hard to access the controls. There’s a standard tripod screw socket on the bottom of the case, that allows the recorder to be mounted on a tripod, or on a pistol grip.

It’s never ideal to record without being able to see the meters, but with some careful soundchecking, one can make good guesses about the best gain settings. The M10 has an Automatic Gain Control mode, which will continually adjust the input levels automatically, based on the incoming sound, but the constantly changing gain settings usually make recordings sound unnatural, so AGC is generally not recommended for critical recordings. It’s a good tool when recording purely for intelligibility, like when recording a lecture or dictation, but if the recording is meant to be used in an audio production, setting the gain manually is a better choice.

There is a built-in limiter, which can be turned on and off in a menu, and it works pretty well for catching the stray loud peak of sound that would otherwise cause distortion.

Operating the M10 is very straightforward. There are a series of menus that should be scrolled-through when you first set-up the recorder, but once your desired recording formats and a few other preferences are set you rarely need to access the menus. To record, you simply press the red record button. This puts the machine in record-pause mode, which allows you to set levels before starting the recording. However record-pause mode is the most perilous recording scenario: countless hours of great audio have been lost over the years because the operator thought a recorder was rolling, when it was actually in pause. The meters are bouncing, sound is being routed to the headphones, but you MUST always verify that the counter is rolling and that the yellow pause light is NOT blinking, to be sure that you are actually recording. Different recorders indicate this in different ways: sometimes blinking means recording; sometimes it means ready. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the conventions of your gear. In this case, a solid red record light is on in both states: record-pause and true record. To go from record-pause to record, press the play button or the pause button. The yellow pause light will stop blinking, and the time counter display will be rolling, up or down, depending on whether you have it set to show time elapsed or time remaining.

There’s a very readable backlit display that shows all the pertinent information, like time remaining in memory, battery level, and input levels. There are also lights located up near the built-in microphones: a green light for indicating signal-present, and a red light for indicating clips or “overs.” These are especially helpful in situations where it’s hard to see the LCD screen. You want to see the green lights blinking, if you don’t, your record levels are probably set too low. But you do NOT want to see the red lights flash – that means the input gain is set too high, and you may be getting crunchy distortion on the louder parts of your recording.

While recording, the M10 allows you to place “T-Marks” by pressing a silver button on the lower right of the face of the recorder. Those T-Marks can serve two purposes. After recording, they can be converted to track split points, creating new files with the T-Marks as the dividing lines. (Menu>> Divide>>Divide all T-Marks.) Or, without splitting the track into separate pieces, which could be difficult to keep track of, the T-Marks can simply be used as locator marks. Some audio editors can display and use the T-Marks in their displays. Transom’s favorite audio editor Hindenburg Journalist can read the T-Marks, displaying them as light blue lines, with numbers. Pressing the tab key will cause the cursor to jump between marks, making it easy to find marked sections, and make edits at those points, if desired.

Files are automatically named with the date of the recording, then a sequential number (so make sure that the internal calendar is set correctly!) Files are stored in a straightforward way, in MSSONY/HIFI/FOLDER01 by default, but you can choose to record into different folders if you like. After recording, the filenames can have “TAKE” or “KEEP” appended to the filename. (Menu>>Add “TAKE”>>Add TAKE/KEEP.)

Transferring files from the recorder to a computer couldn’t be easier: external cards can be removed and placed in card readers, or left in place, and accessed via the mini-USB port. When a cable is connected between that port and a computer, the recorder goes into “connecting” mode, with an icon of spinning arrows. It’s slightly unintuitive that it stays in that mode – it never changes to “Connected” but you’ll see the internal memory and any external cards show up on your computer as external drives. Simply dragging-and dropping from the recorder to the computer’s drive will copy the files. Files are not automatically deleted after being copied, so after you’re confident that they copied successfully to your computer (and you made a back-up!) you can manually delete them, or simply reformat the memory in the recorder. (Menu>>Detail Menu>>Format.)

The M10 ships with an AC power adapter, which is rare, and quite helpful when recording in a location that has AC power. Strangely, it’s barely needed; the battery life on this recorder is truly amazing. Basic alkaline batteries last forever. I always used to do a test, letting the recorder run itself down, to see how long the batteries last in real-world use. After a few days, I got tired of the test: suffice it to say that somehow, this recorder can operate for a LONG time on 2 double-A batteries. It can also use NiMh rechargeables, but be sure to go through the menu and set the battery type in order to get an accurate read-out of remaining battery life. The recorder cannot recharge the batteries; you’ll need a dedicated battery charger for that.

There are some other bells and whistles, like pitch control, bass roll-off, loop-play, and a few other things that are only really useful to a small subset of users, but thankfully basic operations are fairly straightforward, despite the need to navigate menus occasionally. The “Detail Menu” is kind of odd, I’m not sure why those items aren’t on the top level with the other adjustable preferences, but it’s not too hard to remember to look in that sub-menu if you don’t see an entry for the adjustment you’d like to make.

One thing that’s unique to the M10: it comes in colors. The basic model is typical Sony gray and silver, but it can also be purchased with a red or white case. It’s a small thing, but it can be handy to identify recorders if you have more than one…

The Sony M10 is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding line-up of small, affordable digital recorders. It’s small enough to carry conveniently, yet large enough to operate ergonomically. It feels well built, and most important, it sounds great. It works well with external microphones, the only caveat being that without XLR inputs one cannot use all condenser mics, only those that can supply their own phantom power. The mini-jack mic input is not as robust as an XLR jack, but with careful use, and a good XLR-to-mini converter cable, there shouldn’t be any significant impact on sound quality. At a common street price of only about $230 USD, it’s not the cheapest recorder out there, there are several choices in the $99 range, but the sturdiness and ergonomics of the M10 make it worth the extra expense. The Sony PCM-M10 is a great choice for a starter recorder, or as a back-up for a more sophisticated rig. Its quality is good enough for it to be a primary recorder, and hey, at that price, maybe get two, just to be safe…

Official Sony webpage>>


41 Comments on “Sony PCM-M10”

  • Robert says:

    Jeff –

    I don’t have an immediate need for a recorder like the one you reviewed here, but I have to commend you on the thoroughness and clarity of your review ofthis product. I’m sure that the amount of time that it took to do this was not insignificant.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your insights with the rest of us.

  • Larry says:

    How does the new Zoom H2N compare to the Sony PCM-M10?

  • Mark Elliot says:

    Wow – what a fantastic review. Thanks, Jeff. If only we could get that depth of examination in every product review, or even for the really big stuff like medical implants and the like.

    I’m curious: is a larger XLR unit like the Marantz 661 is still holding its own among field recordists, or is there a trend towards the pocket recorders given the compromises?

  • erik says:

    hi jeff,
    thanks for the great reviews of recorders here! especially the recordings are very helpful.

    i just bought an marantz pmd 620 and i am dissapointed by the hissy recordings i get from it. so i am looking for alternatives.

    when i listen to your recordings with the sony pcm m10 i notice that your voice sound so much different than on the ones for the marantz pmd 620 or the sony pcm d50. The later sound quite similar to each other except for the hiss.

    i wonder if this comes from the audio quality of the m10 or was it a different room? maybe the mp3 decoder added the difference?

    the voice in the m10 recordings have much less high mid and high frequency, making the low end of the voice unpleasantly resonant. That is true for all mics.

    all the best,
    erik

  • Thomas Blankenhorn says:

    Jeff, you wrote: “I’m commonly asked about stereo microphones at Transom, and my answer is increasingly that you already have a very good stereo mic if you own a little compact flash recorder.”

    I have a hunch why these questions may be so common: Lately, the miracle of mass production has made portable camcorders cheap as dirt. Because they tend to come with fairly poor mono microphones, their sound cannot compete with a field recorder’s out of the box. But once you plug a $100 electret stereo microphone into them, you get about the same sound quality for about the same price. In addition, you get HDTV-quality video for free. That’s a huge plus for any Transom student who may want to branch out into public television. And there’s no obvious downside for purists who want to stick with radio. Admittedly I’m hedging a bit because I’m not sure how many camcorders can record uncompressed sound. Still, I imagine that Transom would find this use case well worth considering.

    To find out more, you can go to YouTube and search for the brand names of some affordable stereo mikes. You will find quite a few demos showing what I just said. But I don’t trust random YouTube posters as much as I trust you guys. So I, for one, would love to see a stereo-microphone shootout on transom.org. Cheers!

  • Birney Imes says:

    A general question from a novice, please: In this review you write, “We would have preferred that the external card slot was the common SD type, but instead the provided memory slots are for micro SD or Sony Memorystick.” Why is this? And what kind of life should one expect to get from the SD vs. the micro SD? Anything on this subject would be appreciated. Thank you.

  • swampthings says:

    Hi Jeff, I bought a PCM-M10 about two years ago, and haven’t used it for about a year. I’m an audio dabbler, about to do a course I hope will get me to the next level, and as I’m checking over my gear to make sure everything works, I find that I can barely get a signal at all out of an external mono mike, connected to the M10 with a mini-jack to XLR cable (and then to the mic with an XLR male-to-female converter, because when I bought the cable I couldn’t find an XLR female cable end).

    I have tried recording with a Sennheiser ME66 (with and without battery, after I discovered plug-in power is not the same as phantom power) a Sony ECM-77S and, out of desperation, a mini-jack-wired computer headset mike. I can only get a signal at all out of the ECM-77S, and only with the mic sensitivity set to high and the manual rec level at the top. And of course that is unusably noisy. I’m trying to pinpoint the problem and that suggests to me the cable is working, at least. The mics are fine; I use them for TV recordings all the time. The recorder works a treat with its own built-in stereo mics. Which leaves me with the connectors to the external mics and the external mic input on the recorder…. unless you can think of something else?

    The weird thing is, I am certain that when I was using the M10 more regularly, I successfully recorded with the ME66 and this cabling setup, but of course I can’t swear to it. I read on a forum that the problem might be mono-into-stereo and that a Hosa XVM-105 cable might fix the problem. But I wonder if something could be wrong with the mic input on the recorder? My course starts next week so I am in a hurry to get up and running again, and I wonder if you might have any ideas?

    I just joined AIR, so will probably post this on the forum there too. Thanks so much for your help. Valerie

  • Karel says:

    Hi Jeff
    Thanks for your effort!
    The audio samples made me go for Sony M-10 + Rode shotgun mic.
    I’d love to know how you got these two wired together,to achieve the same result.
    (I’m learning about balanced to unbalanced issue,matching output-input impedance and stuff…but it takes time)
    Regards

  • David Boyer says:

    I’ve been trying out the M10 with a Shure SM57 external mic. It sounds pretty good (hiss not too bad), I’m getting some weird electrical static like there’s a problem with the connection. I tried both XVM and XVS cables and hear noise on both. Also tried the same mic on Tascam dr-100 mk2. No noise (so I’m assuming it’s not the mic). So, here’s the question: do I have a lemon M10 on my hands (and maybe there’s a problem with the mic input jack) or is some amount of static normal with the mini jack?

    • David Boyer says:

      Did another test with M10. It seems that the electrical static is worse when the unit is flat on a table (parallel). As soon as I place it perpendicular, the static pretty much goes away. Thoughts?

  • Peter Szabo says:

    I am a singer, and would be important for me to know,
    if the Sony EC-957 has any compatibilty to Sony M-10?

  • Logan says:

    I just purchased the PCM-M10 and I cannot transfer the files on my MAC 10.6.8. I have tried everything. Will it not work?

    • Jeff Towne says:

      Hey Logan, I think we’ll need more details – what exactly is happening, or not happening? Is the M-10 not showing up as a USB device? Is it showing up, but you’re not seeing your files? Can you see your files but not move them? I just had two quick thoughts: this recorder (and lots of devices) doesn’t like being on a USB hub – be sure it’s plugged directly into a USB port on the computer. Similarly, if you have lots of other USB devices connected simultaneously, try unplugging some of them. Then make sure the recorder has sufficient battery power, and is turned-on. That’s all I can think of right now – but give us more details if that doesn’t solve it!

  • joeturner says:

    Jeff, I have a stupid question: what quality setting should I be (mostly) recording in on my M10? I know you said the highest sampling rates are good for recording very quiet sounds, but it has too many LPCM options for me. What should be my default setting (say for ordinary interviews in normal room conditions) when I want to try to produce broadcast-quality audio? The manual seems to indicate that the default is 44khz 16 bit – is that good enough? Maybe there is something covering this elsewhere on transom.. Thanks Joe

    • Jeff Towne says:

      16-bit, 44.1khz is my recommendation for a basic setting. I do NOT recommend recording in a compressed format such as MP3 unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you’ll be out in the filed for a long time with no opportunity to offload and back-up your audio, it’s tempting to record to MP3 to fit more recording time on a memory card, and that might work out OK in a pinch, but I’d suggest just buying some additional memory cards, they’re pretty cheap, and small and light. Although MP3s can sound fine when you play them back, they can degrade considerably if compressed additional times, which often happens in the process of getting the sound to the listener. So stick with WAV files (uncompressed PCM) at 16 bit, 44.1 khz. Recording at 24-bit does give you better quality, especially if you need to crank up the gain later in the mix stage, but it also eats more memory. I use 24 bit sometimes for delicate music recordings, or other events that have a dramatic range of loud and soft parts, but for everyday recordings, I use 16-bit. 44.1 khz is the native sampling rate of Compact Discs, and most commercial digital audio, so if your production uses recorded music, it makes sense to record at 44.1 khz so that you don’t need to sample-rate convert one of your elements. HOWEVER – most digital video uses 48khz as its native sampling rate, so if your recordings will likely end up in a video project, you might want to record at 48khz so that you don’t have to sample-rate convert when adding your audio to the video. Many sample rate conversion algorithms sound perfectly fine, but others can introduce some degradation of the sound, so it’s better to avoid sample rate conversions if you can, or at least keep them to a minimum!

      • joeturner says:

        Jeff – thanks for such a comprehensive reply, as you can tell I am a total novice. I hadn’t thought about the issue with video, but that is unlikely to be something I’m going to be involved in. I’ve just bought some basic kit and am seeing what it all does. Thanks again from Transom, really good stuff.

      • joeturner says:

        for Transom, not from. sorry, I can’t edit the comment.

  • MC says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Thank you for your incredibly thorough review. I read with interest your paragraph on phantom power. I just purchased an M10, and have a Countryman B6 lavalier mic on order. The M10 is compatible with the Countryman B6, according to the Countryman website (http://www.countryman.com/digital-recorder-wiring), but I’m still uncertain it’s going to work when it arrives. The pro audio guys at B&H told me that the B6 requires phantom power and because the M10 doesn’t provide this it won’t work. I’ve read in various forums that the B6 requires only 2V, and that the M10 offers this, so they should work together. Please could you clarify if the ‘plug-in power’ module on the M10 will work for the B6? I’ll need to change my order immediately if not. Many thanks!

  • Jean Wahl says:

    Jeff, Thank you for posting such a thorough review of a great product.
    I have a problem with mine that the manual does not address: For some reason the built in memory thinks it is full — only 23 seconds to record, when it is actually empty. All folders have been checked. I’m stuck with only using memory card now and wish I could also use built-in. I may have deleted some files from the device while it was connected to computer, using it as an external drive. So I am looking for a way to reset or format internal memory but haven’t found anything so far. Maybe you or someone on this thread knows how to do that? Thanks! jean

  • Rogerio Vitiver says:

    Thank you Jeff. Greetings from Brazil.
    My main interest in buying a digital recorder is music practice. I would like to record myself and my saxophone teatcher, and register my studies with play-along tracks. I am devided between Sony M10 and Roland R-05. They seem to be pretty similar to me. Do you have any comments on sound quality and features?

  • sam quinones says:

    I own this recorder and really like it. it’s compact and the sound i find is quite good. I have a question. I have Re-50 that I got almost free and thus would like to find a way to use it with the PCM-10. but as you say the output is weak and i have to boost the levels to near maximum to get a usable recording from them.

    my question is whether you can recommend a solution, as I’m loathe to buy another recorder or another mic…..is there some booster I can buy that’ll help boost the sound recording i’m getting from the mic?

    any ideas at all would be appreciated…..

    • Jeff Towne says:

      We use RE-50 mics with the Sony M-10s pretty frequently, and yes, you need to crank the input gain up pretty high, but the resulting recordings always seem to sound pretty good, so I’d just go for it… You don’t want to record TOO low, but you don’t have to be banging the top of the meters all the time! The only other thing I’d say is to get the mic in closer… that might seem obvious, but with an omni mic like the RE-50, you really need to be very close to get a good immediate sound, and people are often a little shy about placing a mic very close to an interview subject. But don’t do the newscaster thing, with the mic a couple of feet away from the mouth, get in close: maybe 4-6 inches away from the interviewee’s mouth, a little off to the side. You might have to sit or stand very close. Don’t worry, you’ll both get used to it! But the other answer is that no, there’s no simple way to boost the output of the RE-50 in this circumstance. There are a few devices, such as the CloudLifter than can add gain to a dynamic mic by using phantom power, but the Sony M-10 does not provide phantom power. You could add an external preamp or field mixer, but that adds bulk and expense, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well just get a different recorder… So I’d just go with what you have, make sure you’re placing the mic close, and see how you do. If you have to add a little gain in the computer while mixing, that’s no big deal, as long as the results aren’t super-hissy. If your recordings are consistently too low, and get noisy when you bring them up, the only practical answer is to try another mic, or another recorder… But you really should be able to get decent results with the RE-50 and an M-10 – Good Luck!

    • Aleksi says:

      How about getting some battery powered microphone, since Sony pcm-m10 doesn’t phantom power. Well thats what I’m going to try with my M10. Cheers

  • Adam Kampe says:

    Yes, THANK YOU THANK YOU, Jeff. You’re so kind to take this kind of time. It is so appreciated.

  • Miklos says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I read your fantastic reviews on transom.

    I am about to decide between a Marantz PMD620MKII (that is, the new version) and the Sony PCM-M10. The Sony is cheaper but price is not so much an issue.

    Primarily, I want to carry it around and record conversations (6-10 people in a room, recorder will sit in the middle) and maybe music. I do not plan to use an external mic if not absolutely needed.

    While this is the primary purpose, its also important that later I can use it for other stuff.

    Which one would you recommend? Your advice is much appreciated.

    Best regards,

    Miklos

    • Jeff Towne says:

      I would DEFINITELY go for a Sony M-10 over the Marantz 620. I think it’s a better recorder on several levels, and it’s just a bonus that it’s cheaper. The 620s also seem to be prone to some file-garbling syndrome – it certainly doesn’t happen to everyone, but I get a lot of emails from people who have lost recordings off their 620s – more than any other recorder (and the runners-up are other Marantz machines…) I honestly don’t see any significant advantage that the 620 has over the Marantz. The Marantz Pre-Set menu is nice, but not all that necessary. Being able to record mono on the 620 is nice for disc economy, but memory cards are cheap now, just get a bigger one (the Sony recorders always record a stereo file.) It’s kind of nice to not worry about it – and not accidentally record in mono when you meant to use stereo mode. The Sony is just as robust as the 620, and it has an input gain knob, not those awful up/down buttons. And I think it sounds better too. So go M-10, and go get a nice dinner with the money you saved!

      • Miklos says:

        Thanks a lot for the advice, it is much appreciated.

        One more question: will the M10 actually work for what I want to use it? If I set it in the middle of a room (using just the internal mic) and 6-10 people are having a conversation around it, will it record it in OK quality? Or I need to get an external mic for that purpose?

        Thanks,

        Miklos

      • Jeff your reviews are always essential reading, this one no exception – thanks. Based on your sage advice I’ve just bought an M10 and I’m not disappointed. But… I’m a long-time user of the Marantz PMD620 (I’ve had no file garbles) and I think the 620 does have a couple of advantages:

        1: You have to be blind to have the 620 in record-ready by mistake. There’s a dirty big record button that I can’t miss – one push into record and the button lights up solid red and it’s recording, boom. If I hit the smaller ready button by mistake, big button assaults my eyes with big red flashes. Hit the Sony’s record button and the (smaller) record button lights up solid red, but of course the machine is not actually recording – I’m only in ready. I have to then hit the play button to be recording, as you point out. 2 steps to start recording. I find that in ready mode the tiny flashing pause button is easy to miss because it’s pretty inconspicuous in daylight. So it makes me nervous.

        2: I sometimes use agc in on-the-fly recording situations. The Marantz agc gives me a healthy record level. (Downside: you have to go into the menu to choose manual or agc, which is time-consuming.) The Sony lets me choose with a convenient hardware switch, but it gives me a much lower level on agc, peaking about -24db with an external condenser mic. This is not a problem in manual mode, where it has whacks of healthy clean level – so suspect it’s an unfortunate design choice with Sony’s agc circuitry.

        Other than that, the M10 is terrific. Does anyone know how large the folders are, and whether there is any audio skip when it switches from a full folder to the next empty one? The Marantz doesn’t use a record-folder system, it just keeps on going with the same file.

        Chris

  • KL Parr says:

    I use this recorder with an EV50 mic for interviews, then edit in Soundcloud. Thus far it works wonderfully. But lately our podcast has been expanding, and we probably need to add an extra mike for balancing levels on multi-person interviews. Would it be possible to run two mics through a mixer and into the Sony’s 1/8″ input to record? Is that a ridiculous idea? If not, what mixer might be suitable? I’ve been looking at the M-Audio 2-channel but I don’t know enough about MIDI/line-out to know if it would work. If anyone has suggestions I would sure appreciate it!

  • Camiel says:

    Hi Jeff, thaks for sharing your review! after reading your review I’m seriously considering buying this recorder. However the model dates from 2010 it still seems a good buy. But there’s one thing I’d like to know. Besides ‘normal’ field recording I’m planning to record through the line in connection in order to record dj sets. The input level of the mixer can be very high. Therefore I need to be able to turn back the input level using the rotary gain knob. I was wondering what the range of the gain is? Can it be turned down to zero to maximum? I’ve tried a tascam dr07mk2 but that recorder was only capable reducing gain in a certain amount which wasn’t enough for me. Hope you can help me out with this. Many thanks in advance!

  • Chris B says:

    Hi, I’m a freelancer in a situation where 90% of what I record will probably be voices but of course it’d be nice to have something decent for getting ambi. I’ve narrowed it down to either Tascam DR 100 MKII or this Sony M10. The Sony seems great but the big problem seems to be XLR vs mini. Two questions:

    (1) Since I’m rarely recording with a super long cable that can encounter interference, is the main reason for XLR over mini the locking mechanism and thicker, sturdier cable?

    (2) I want to find a cable that isn’t too long or too short but I feel it’s nearly impossible to get an XLR to mini cable that’s 3-5 feet, with a right-angle jack and a thick, sturdy build. I have tried Amazon, Google Shopping, obscure music sites… am I just looking in the wrong places? I find it easier to get a 3-5 foot XLR-to-XLR and in the end… maybe that’s what will push me toward the Tascam.

    Thanks!

    • Jeff Towne says:

      1) yes, you’re right that longer cables are more likely to pick-up interference, but even short-ish unbalanced cables tend to pick-up cell phone noise, radio transmissions, etc. Balanced, three-pin, shielded, XLR cables are not a guarantee that you’ll avoid electronic interference, but they’re more reliable than the mini-connector cables. And 2) It’s true that it’s easier to find XLR cables of various lengths (another argument for getting a recorder with XLR inputs – it’s easier to find a spare cable in an emergency!) but you should be able to get decent XLR-to-mini cables in a length you prefer. Try Sescom; http://www.sescom.com/product.asp?item=CAM2MIC-18IN They’re sold various places, including Markertek. The ones the call “Camera cables” are wired correctly, and are pretty nice cables…

  • Ron Peltier says:

    I will be traveling with the Canoe Journey up the inside passage of Vancouver Island in a few days. I would like to get some recordings while on the canoe. Would appreciate suggestions for an external microphone to use with the PCM-M10 that is water resistant.

  • HarryC says:

    Thanks for this excellent detailed review. Reviews like this are essential, as they give you insights you only get from actually using the gadget over a period of time, something you can’t get from just perusing the detailed spec.

Links to “Sony PCM-M10”

Leave a Comment